In The Heights

The toast of Broadway attempts to show a grittier side of New York City, but fails to deliver.

BY Mike Diamond

April 13 2008 11:00 PM ET

Miranda’s
performance is interesting; he injects heavy doses of
hip-hop, much of it quite funny, into his "singing,"
essentially rapping all of his dialogue. It’s
an effective fusion of traditional exposition and
contemporary musical styling; unfortunately, a little of
that goes a long way. By the third or fourth time he assumed
some gangsta rap body language and spat out some
singsong rhymes to move the story along, I was
white-knuckling my armrests. Robin DeJesus (best known from
the film Camp) does a fine job as the
clownish Sonny, Usnavy’s young cousin, employee, and
sidekick. DeJesus brings a light touch to
Sonny’s goofball antics and not-quite-seasoned
swagger.

On the whole, the
performers are overwhelmingly better than the material
they have to work with. As Vanessa, dreaming her way out of
El Barrio, Karen Olivo is sex on sticks, stalking
across the stage like a panther, sultry and petulant.
Olivo’s dancing is superb, vividly expressing her
character's frustrations and white-hot sensuality,
and her voice is strong and textured. As
Daniella, owner of the neighborhood beauty salon,
Andrea Burns steals all her scenes. Her Daniella is
sexy, wise but not jaded, and an incorrigible gossip.
Burns gets all the good lines in the show and imbues
every one of her character’s saucy asides with just
the right combination of vinegar and hidden heart.

There are two
sodden love stories embedded in the story, both of them
completely void of chemistry. Shy Usnavy pines for
neighborhood sexpot Vanessa, while Benny (Christopher
Jackson), who works for Rosario’s Car Service,
hooks up with his boss's daughter, the studious but
conflicted Nina (Mandy Gonzalez). Gonzalez has a pure
and lovely voice, and she shines in "Breathe," one of
act 1’s best numbers. For his part, Jackson is
muy caliente, a sexy slice of Latin cheesecake
and a fine dancer. His character is all bravado and
boast, and reminded me of the many obnoxious types one
tries to avoid on the subway.

Tags: Theater

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